Alicia Keys is gearing up to release her sixth studio album later this summer, and in a candid new essay for Lenny Letter, the 35-year-old singer reveals that the collection was partly inspired by the pressures for women to be perfect.
“Before I started my new album, I wrote a list of all the things that I was sick of,” she writes. “And one was how much women are brainwashed into feeling like we have to be skinny, or sexy, or desirable, or perfect. One of the many things I was tired of was the constant judgment of women.”
Keys writes about one new song, “When A Girl Can’t Be Herself,” that addresses these issues with blunt admission. “I realized that during this process, I wrote a lot of songs about masks filled with metaphors about hiding,” she says, before sharing some of the song’s lyrics: “In the morning from the minute that I wake up/ What if I don’t want to put on all that makeup/ Who says I must conceal what I’m made of/ Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem.”
She says she put the song aside and didn’t think much about it until she had a photoshoot for the new album. “I’d just come from the gym, had a scarf under my baseball cap, and the beautiful photographer Paola (never met a Paola I didn’t like) said, ‘I have to shoot you right now, like this! The music is raw and real, and these photos have to be too!'”
The photo that came from this session (see a full color version below) became the artwork for Keys’ first single from the album, “In Common.”
Keys describes the image as ” intimately relating, me and that baseball hat and scarf and a bunch of invisible magic circulating.” She writes, “And I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt.”
See Keys’ full essay over at Lenny Letter and hear “In Common” below.